Mayor leaves lasting legacy

Whether you call him Mr. Mayor, Dave, or “Johnny Poppyseed,” La Cañada Mayor David Spence has made a lasting impact as top dog in this town.

Spence's most recent year-long service as mayor ends this month when the City Council elects its new annual leader, a service each council member essentially takes a turn performing.

This is Spence's fourth term as mayor, his first was in 1994.

If all goes as expected for the revolving change of leadership, the council will elect Mayor Pro Tem Stephen A. Del Guercio to that role on March 17.

“We all owe Mayor Spence a hearty congratulations for his hard work over the past year,” Del Guercio said. “His energy and enthusiasm for promoting the interests of our city knows no bounds.”

Serving as mayor of La Cañada has been an honor and a challenge, Spence said.

“There have been a lot of significant things accomplished this year,” he said, adding that, “The most important has been to start the Town Center project.”

Spence has been at the helm as the city awarded a contract to revamp the Angeles Crest Highway and Chevy Chase Drive intersection; initiated the first-ever Parking District Task Force to look at and plan for parking needs in the city; created the General Plan Advisory Committee; is completing work on sewer districts 3A and 3B; and, held public hearings concerning the possible sewer district No. 5, also known as districts 4 and 5.

This year, the city also planned for construction of sidewalks along Chevy Chase Drive; that project is set to begin very soon. The council expects to hear back in the next few weeks on a state Safe Route to Schools grant that could mean sidewalks for another roadway that has caused concern for — along La Cañada Boulevard from La Cañada Elementary School to Green Lane. Councilman Don Voss and Spence recently traveled to Sacramento to talk to administrators about the grant and, though a previous year's attempt was unsuccessful, Spence thinks this year the city will receive the grant. “It looks really good,” he said.

This week, Spence and Voss are in Washington, D.C. lobbying for federal dollars as part of Spence's separate but related leadership role as president of the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments.

In that role, Spence heads governmental leaders from 31 cities, representing about 2.1 million residents from La Cañada to Pomona. The council looks at regional and city needs related to water, transportation, housing and environmental issues.

Spence also is the past president of California Contract Cities, and has served on the League of California Cities, the Southern California Association of Governments Transportation Committee, the National League of Cities Small Cities, California Joint Powers Insurance Authority Executive Board, the County of Los Angeles Local Government Commission and Metro San Gabriel Valley Transit Service Sector Governance Board.

Spence is up for re-election to the City Council next year, but said it's “too early to speculate” on whether or not he will serve a fifth term as mayor in a future year. “I'd have to get re-elected first, and then you have to have the respect of the rest of the council to be selected for that honor,” he said.

Spence has served on the council since 1992. Prior to that, he served on the city's public safety commission. “I just wanted to be more active in my community,” he said of his decision to run for public office.

Spence grew up in southern Ohio and graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University. He later moved to Glendale and began a sales-related job in the pharmaceutical industry. He and wife, Alice, moved to La Cañada in 1969, where they reared their two now-adult sons, Andrew and Stephen.

In addition to his leadership accomplishments, Spence is leaving a beautiful legacy to the city, of which many residents might not be aware to give him credit.

A few years back, Spence was talking with his friend, Frank Roberts, who was then the mayor of the city of Lancaster. Spence told Roberts how much he admired the wild poppies that bloom along the roadways of that city. A short time later, Roberts called Spence and told him he was bringing him a gift — three packets of wild poppy seeds.

The seeds require special handling, including placing two or three seeds each in an ice cube tray, filling the tray with water, freezing for about 10 days, and then spreading the cubes out on land where poppies can begin to grow, Spence said.

“I was driving down Angeles Crest and I got the idea to plant the seeds there,” Spence said. He enlisted a friend from La Cañada Presbyterian Church, Ruth Plowman, to sow the ice-cubed-seeds on the rocks and dirt along the highway. “And the next year the poppies started sprouting up,” he said, adding that each year the poppies have regenerated and multiplied.

“But, the praise for the poppies really goes to the mayor of Lancaster,” Spence insists. “He's the one that gave me the seeds. I just admired the beautiful flowers.”


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